Advertisements
RSS Feed

Whitely the Opera – Iconic Sydney

A chilly winter night in July in Sydney did not dampen the spirits of this avid theatre goer as I made my way to the Sydney Opera House for a performance of Opera Australia’s Whitely, the new opera by Elena Kats-Chernin and Justin Fleming, in its opening week.

I love visiting our icon of the “Harbour City”. A performance in January, the height of summer is pure magic. A balmy night – the lights of Luna Park, the ferries, a cruise ship, those dark depths of the harbour, and the Bridge. And glistening like pearls in the moonlight, those imposing, beautiful, awe inspiring shells of the Sydney Opera House. But even in winter the experience is magical; the air is clear and crisp and the cityscape more sharply defined.

I am aware of having been part of something quite special when attending the performance this week. Brett Whitely is one of this country’s greatest artists. How to encapsulate his life and his art and his legacy into a work that, because of the vagaries of live theatre, will never remain constant, will always be evolving?

But that is the metaphor. Whitely’s child like insouciance and his will-o’-the-wisp life spark can be conveyed best by performers and musicians, and indeed theatre technicians, producing a highly complex performance night after night, each performance with different nuances, and the audience each night adding its own unique reaction to the work.

I loved the experience. The story unfolds simultaneously through sung narrative, music and visual imagery. All seamlessly flow, propelling the audience through the journey of a life, flamboyant, brilliant, and by no means virtuous. David Freeman as director has created something that will have a life outside of, and long after, this Sydney Opera House season.

While I am not a musician, Kats-Chernin’s score is arresting. This is not an opera to “hum along to”, this is a poignant, beautiful soundtrack to a life. As Kats-Chernin says, in order to capture an unconventional life in music, she had to find something unexpected. “It’s a bit like cooking – you can pair unpredictable things. Salty and sweet together.”

The narrative constructed by playwright Justin Fleming is crystal clear and charts the major periods of Whitely’s life, as well as the relationship with Wendy Whitely, the addiction and the art.

While the majority of the narrative feels very real, in an almost documentary style, the denouement of the opera is less satisfying. Whiteley’s death happens so quickly, before you can take in its significance. The ending, where Wendy creates the Secret Garden at Lavender Bay, is “nice”. But for me and for my opera companion, it seemed somehow to lack the fire and the passion that characterised Whitely’s life and work. 

Visual imagery is lush and gob smacking in its ability to be the partner to the other performance elements. Huge digital screens not only provide the set, they become part of the narrative, the screens moving in and around the space, as images constantly move, grow and dissolve as projections. The towering Whitely works are digitally enlarged on the screens and lose nothing by that enhancement. The exterior and interior location vistas are painterly, and remind us that this is a work about visual art. 

But this is a performance, and it is the performers who really bring this opera to life. The ensemble cast is superb, with so many characters moving in and out of the narrative for a few brief moments each. Julie Lea Goodwin is lithe and athletic, elegant and sexual, reproducing the artistic and eccentric Wendy Whitely, and with accomplished singing.

It was Leigh Melrose’s Whitely that mesmerised me. His highly active performance left me wondering how he could sing from so many tricky physical positions! I could understand every word he sang, and at times I was moved by the sweetness and the poignancy of his voice. He absolutely encapsulated for me the life force that was Brett Whitely.

Whitely at the Opera House on Sydney Harbour. Essential and iconic Sydney.

Whitely : Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Thursday 18 July 2019

Advertisements

Blood Orange Tea Cakes

I love looking over my posts from previous years, in the equivalent month. This post is originally from July 2017. I note that it was a balmy 21 degrees C. Today in Sydney has been a chilly 16 degrees C. Winter in Sydney can really vary!

This is a recipe for friands, very similar to the French financiers. I have called them tea cakes in this post, just as Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, in their wonderful book Sweet, describe little cakes that go well with a cup of tea.

This version features wonderful blood oranges, which have just become available in Sydney.

The recipe is really so versatile, you could add lots of different fruit to the basic recipe. Cherries, pears, raspberries and blueberries work well.

Ingredients

6 egg whites, beaten lightly

75g plain flour

240g icing sugar, sifted

125g almond meal

150g melted butter, cooled

Grated zest and juice of a blood orange

10 tablespoons icing sugar or enough to make a thick glaze.

Optional – some salted pistachio praline to decorate*

Slices of blood orange

Method

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C or 160 degrees C fan-forced. Lightly grease 12 friand molds.

Beat the egg whites until frothy with fork in a large mixing bowl.

Sift the flour and icing sugar into the bowl, stir in almond meal and then add the melted butter. Stir in the zest of the blood orange, and the juice of one half of the blood orange.

Spoon the mixture (approximately ¼ cup) into each of the molds.

Bake in preheated oven for 20  minutes until cooked through and golden brown or until a skewer is inserted into centre comes out clean. Sometimes the friands need a few more minutes in the oven to be nice and brown.

To make the glaze, mix the juice of the other half of the blood orange with the icing sugar. You may need to add more or less juice or more or less icing sugar to get the glaze to the right consistency to ice the friands.

Ice the friands with just enough glaze to coat the tops and perhaps to run down the sides a little.

*To make the salted pistachio praline, dissolve a couple of tablespoons of caster sugar in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Don’t stir, or the sugar will crystallize. Once the dissolved sugar has turned to a deep toffee colour, pour the praline over a handful of salted pistachios on some baking paper. Once hard, bash the praline into fragments.

Rustic Pear Tart

It’s winter in Sydney, although for readers in the northern hemisphere our daytime maximums of 19 or 20 degrees C must seem quite balmy!

But winter it is, and that’s why I’m baking pies and tarts. It just seems the right thing to do as the days draw in and the nights become chilly.

This weekend I made a sweet tart. This rustic pear tart is easy and a relatively quick tart to make. I say quick – I added to the process by making my own rough puff pastry. It’s totally worth the effort, but using good quality bought butter puff pastry is probably the sensible way to go! I will include the recipe for both puff and rough puff pastry in another post.

You can whip this up in the afternoon for dinner that night. Or have it as an afternoon tea treat.

Oh by the way, you could use other seasonal winter fruit such as apples or quinces.

Ingredients
3 pears (any kind, I like Beurre Bosc)
2 tablespoons regular sugar + 1 teaspoon for sprinkling
1 quantity butter puff pastry (or you could make your own)
1 free range egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon of honey

Method
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C fan forced. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.

Thinly slice the pears, leaving the skin on. This is a rustic tart! Scatter the sugar over the pear slices. If you’re worried about the pears going brown, squeeze a little lemon juice over the top.

If you’re using bought puff pastry, you will need to roll out the pastry on a floured surface to make a rectangle about 35cm x 25 cm. Depending on the brand you have bought, you will either be rolling a block or sheets. For block pastry, roll the block to the required rectangle size. If rolling sheets, you may need to cut a large sheet down to size, or amalgamate 2 sheets to make the rectangle. You can do this by putting the edge of one sheet over the other sheet and rolling with a rolling pin to make them stick together. Then shape into the 35cm x 25cm rectangle by rolling and cutting as necessary.

If making your own pastry, roll the pastry on a floured surface into a rectangle about 35cm x 25cm.

The size doesn’t have to be precise – you just want a rectangle that fits neatly onto your baking tray.

Fold over the four edges about 2cm and crimp down with a fork. Make an egg wash by beating the egg and milk together. Brush the pastry, edges included, with the egg wash.

Place the pears on the pastry, in any design you like. Sprinkle with the additional sugar.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the pastry is a deep golden brown. Take the tart out of the the oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.

Drizzle with honey and serve with thick cream or ice cream or both!

Ham, Leek, Cheese and Walnut Pies

I was given a present a while back of some beautiful ceramic bowls, great for serving soup in, but also a perfect receptacle for individual rustic pies.

This is a really simple recipe, the filling for which can be adapted to suit your individual taste.

I had some chunky ham pieces and a leek in the fridge so decided that they would be the basis for some simple pies. I also had a lovely washed rind cheese, soft and melting, that I thought would go beautifully with the ham and leek. I’m a huge fan of nuts, so it was a no-brainer that I decided to put some walnuts in the pies as well. They added a lovely crunch and texture to the pies.

All these ingredients were stirred into a white sauce, piled into the bowls, topped with puff pastry and baked in the oven.

I made my own puff pastry, which was a little time consuming. I’m not including the recipe here, I actually can’t remember where I sourced it from!! Looking back on past posts on my blog, I see that I usually make rough puff pastry. So I’m not quite sure why I decided to go the full puff on this occasion. I recommend using a good bought butter puff pastry for the recipe.

I decided I would put a rim of pastry around the edge of the bowls, but this didn’t really work. I’m not quite sure what I did wrong. I have included the photo, as I like to be honest about what works and what doesn’t in my cooking. I’ll know next time to do some more research about how to fix this issue!

The recipe makes two substantial deep bowl pies. You could double the quantities for a larger pie in a conventional pie dish.

Ingredients

1 large leek
A knob of butter to cook the leek
Salt
200g ham chunks
50g any soft washed rind cheese
A small handful of walnuts or to taste

White sauce
25g butter
25g plain flour
600ml milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 sheets of butter puff pastry or the equivalent ( I normally use the Careme brand, readily available in Australia, when not making my own)

1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon milk, for glazing

Method

Cut the leek into small slices. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the leek with a good pinch or two of salt. Cook on a low temperature until the leek slices are soft, about 10-15 minutes.

Chop the ham into bite sized pieces and roughly slice the cheese. Chop any whole walnuts into smaller pieces.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.

For the white sauce, melt the butter in a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the flour and stir for 1-2 minutes, to make sure the raw flour taste is cooked out.

It’s important to do this and the subsequent stirring in of the milk with a wooden spoon.

Gradually stir in about a third of the milk, making sure the milk is incorporated and there are no floury lumps. When the sauce has noticeably thickened, add another third of the milk and repeat the process. Add the last third of the milk and cook until the sauce is nice and thick. Simmer gently for 5 minutes and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Stir the ham, leek, cheese and walnuts into the white sauce in the saucepan. Pile the mixture into the individual bowls.

Cut out circles of puff pastry that are larger than the diameter of the bowls and will be enough to completely cover the tops. Brush the tops of pies with the beaten egg.

Place in the preheated oven and cook for about 20 minutes until the top of the pies are golden brown and puffed up.

Serve piping hot straight from the bowls!

The Dismissal – Oz Musical Satire at its Best

The Dismissal in 1975 is one of the seminal events in Australian politics, at least for me, forging my political beliefs and engendering an interest in the mechanics of government in this country.

People often ask the question – where were you when a significant event happened? The assassination of JFK, the first man on the moon in the last century, 9/11 in this current century.

Two historical events have affected me deeply, and I can pinpoint my location for both. In 1975, the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam of the Australian Labor Party was dismissed from office by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, and the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser of the Liberal Party, was commissioned as caretaker Prime Minister.

Another tragic event five years later in 1980 affected me as deeply – the assassination of John Lennon in the archway of the Dakota building in New York City. Both these events sent me into a period of mourning for lost freedoms and values on one hand and the senseless loss of a hugely influential figure in music and culture on the other.

So it was with some trepidation that I regarded attending the Squabbalogic performance at the Seymour Centre of The Dismissal last Friday night. I certainly didn’t want that particular event trivialised and sent up. It was just too significant in the history of this country and in my own personal history to treat so lightly.

Squabbalogic has a reputation for theatre that’s innovative, clever, and not afraid of a challenge. This production is all of the above. Wow! What a night! We were led to believe this was a kind of workshop performance, trialling the musical for another more fully developed run. All I can say is that audiences at the seven performances in this short season agree that The Dismissal is a brilliantly written, sophisticated satire that also showcases some pretty fine acting, singing and dancing!

What has been achieved is a really funny musical. And surprisingly, the explanation of the facts of the dismissal are clearly set out. My rather rusty knowledge of some of the events was brought into sharp definition by the entertaining narrative. The “Loans Affair” with the shadowy figure of Khemlani at its centre was a good example.REPORT THIS AD

But it was the startling characterisation of the main protagonists that was so effective. Gough Whitlam (Justin Smith) and Malcom Fraser (Andrew Cutcliffe) were believably portrayed: humorous, yes, but not belittled by caricature. Sir John Kerr, played ably by (female) Marney McQueen, was part character, part caricature. However the villain of the piece was the outrageous vulture like Sir Garfield Barwick (Blake Appleqvist), an unforgettable caricature straight out of a Victorian melodrama.

While the musical accurately reflected the accord that existed in the latter years of Whitlam and Fraser, it had a few kind words for Kerr too. Not so for Barwick.

The show was hosted by Norman Gunston, aka Gary McDonald, who is remembered for being on the steps of Parliament House on that memorable day in 1975 when Whitlam spoke to the nation. Norman Gunston, played by Matthew Whittet almost stole the show! I say almost, because everyone is so good in this production. He WAS Norman Gunston. The look, the voice, the physical mannerisms, and the ability to ad lib – we were back in the seventies watching the man himself.

Undoubtedly accolades must go to the creative team who gave birth to the musical – the book written by Blake Erickson and Jay James-Moody, and the music and lyrics by Laura Murphy. And a big shout out for the outstanding direction by Jay James-Moody too.

The show had a standing ovation the night we went, and I believe that happened at other performances as well. The future of original musical theatre is in great hands if this Squabbalogic production is anything to go by. I loved this funny and yet respectful satire on such an important political event.

The Dismissal: Seymour Centre Friday 21 June 2019

The Banana Chelsea

As the title implies, this is a recipe for a Chelsea style bun. But the thing that makes it different is that mashed banana is incorporated through the dough, giving the bun a real banana hit!

They look and taste great, but I got a bit worried that you can’t see any banana, so I did do some decoration with a few banana slices and some toffee. I think this was “gilding the lily”. They’re fine on their own!

Ingredients

350g strong flour
1 teaspoon salt
100g tepid water
10g dry yeast
20g sugar
50g buttermilk
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Filling
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup hazelnut praline paste (This paste is sometimes hard to source, so you could substitute Nutella)

Icing
200g icing sugar
Enough water to make a smooth paste

Method

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Put the tepid water, yeast and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a dough hook. Leave it to sit for a few minutes, to allow the yeast to start to activate.

When the mixture is frothy, add the buttermilk and the mashed bananas. Mix well using the dough hook.

Add the flour and salt mixture to the bowl and continue to mix with the dough hook on low speed the dough is smooth and starts to become elastic. Add the vegetable oil and mix until the dough becomes soft and silky.

Form the dough into a ball and place it into a clean bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film, or my favourite, a disposable plastic shower cap. I always use shower caps to rise dough, as they neatly fit over the top of the bowl! Allow to dough to rise for 60-90 minutes, until roughly doubled in size.

Towards the end of rise, get your filling ready. Melt the butter gently in a microwave on low, and have your brown sugar and praline paste/Nutella on hand.

Flour a work surface. Turn out the dough and knead gently for a few minutes until the dough is soft and pliable.

Roll out the dough into a big, long rectangle. The rectangle should be about 20cm wide. It’s hard to say how long the rectangle is, at least 50 cms, but it could be longer. I judge by the thickness of the dough, rolling out to get a decent length, but you do want dough that’s not too thin, just thick enough to encase the filling.

Spread the melted butter over the dough rectangle, then sprinkle over the brown sugar. Dot the dough with the praline paste or Nutella, as you can’t really spread the paste.

Roll up the dough along its long edge into as tight a cylinder you can get, being careful as the dough is quite hard to manage. Slice the cylinder into roughly equal pieces using a sharp knife. I usually get about 12 buns per cylinder, but the number of buns will vary depending on how large you want the finished product.

Line a large baking tray with baking paper and arrange the buns cut end down. Cover the tray with cling film or put inside a large plastic bag. I have several of these that I have rescued after I’ve had something delivered. Leave to rise for another 60-90 minutes at room temperature, until the buns are noticeable bigger, but not necessarily doubled in size.

15 minutes before baking, preheat your oven to 180 degrees C fan forced.

Place the baking tray in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until the buns are a deep golden brown colour. You can check after 15 minutes to make sure the buns are not browning too quickly – if so, cover the top with foil for the last part of the baking.

Remove from the oven, and cool to room temperature. Once the buns are cooled, drizzle with water icing.

For the icing, mix the icing sugar with enough water until the icing is thick but of dropping consistency. Drizzle the icing over the buns using a fork or spoon.

The Banana Chelsea is now ready to eat! But if you want to prove the bun is actually a banana Chelsea, by all means top with a slice or two of banana and even a few toffee shards. I did do this, but really, the buns taste like banana, so there’s really no need for additional advertising!

Steak Sandwich: Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients

I was looking for a quick dinner involving steak this week. I have a great butcher in Balmain village, with superb free range meat, and their beef is particularly tasty. I had a beautiful piece of sirloin, so how best to cook to showcase it?

Jamie Oliver has a really simple steak sandwich recipe in 5 Ingredients Quick and Easy Food. I’ve made it a couple of times and it’s great!

I made a few tweaks, mentioned in parentheses in the recipe. I made the sandwich with sourdough bread and I charred some spring onions instead of onion, preferring the milder flavour. I prefer Dijon mustard too.

Here’s Jamie’s recipe. Highly recommended for a delicious, quick steak sandwich. Lovely with a little tomato salad.

Ingredients
250g sirloin steak, ideally 1.5cm thick
1 large onion (or 3 or 4 spring onions)
2 teaspoons American mustard (or Dijon)
4 slices of nice bread (I used sourdough)
50g provolone or fontina cheese

Method
Pull the fat off the sirloin, finely slice the fat and place it in a large cold nonstick frying pan.

Put on a medium-high heat to render as it heats up, moving it around
to coat the pan, while you peel and slice the onion/spring onion into thick rounds. Add them to the pan to char for 10 minutes, turning halfway.

Meanwhile, cut off the sinew, then place the steak between two sheets of greaseproof paper and pound with your fist until just under 1 cm thick. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper, then brush all over with the mustard and cut into two.

Add a good splash of red wine vinegar to the onion, toss for 1 minute over the heat, then divide between two slices of bread, leaving the pan on the heat.

Sear the steaks in the screaming hot pan for just 40 seconds on each side, then slice and lay over the cheese, cover, turn the heat off and leave to melt for just 40 seconds more.

Lay the steak on top of the onion, pop the other slices of bread on top, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, and devour.

%d bloggers like this: